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Calls for resignation of Cuesta College board president over social media posts

Posted at 7:09 PM, Nov 12, 2020
and last updated 2020-11-13 00:25:09-05

Some people are calling for the immediate resignation of the Cuesta College Board of Trustees President after he posted what critics call “racist, homophobic and misogynistic” slurs on Facebook.

Current and former Cuesta College faculty, students and trustees spoke out during a virtual meeting Thursday afternoon saying the social media comments made by Peter Sysak promote white supremacy and inequality in the community.

Despite dozens of public demands, Sysak is refusing to step down.

“If you really want to show your support for Black people and people of color, Peter Sysak will resign immediately,” said Dawn Grillo, president of the Cuesta Black Student Union.

Grillo’s was just one of many passionate voices during public comment.

NAACP San Luis Obispo County President and Cuesta College alum Stephen Vines took to campus to speak against racial injustice in front of the board Thursday.

“We are asking that the board resolve this issue, that we do not have people who espouse those kinds of values in leadership especially in public institutions,” Vines said.

According to Sysak, one of his posts included a picture of the "Proud Boys" depicting white, Black and other men of color to which he posed the question, "How could this be a white supremacist group?"

“My social media sharing of different views on this was meant to provoke communications from both sides of the issue. Sadly, these posts have inflamed certain progressive left groups resulting in their untrue comments that have spread throughout the community," Sysak said.

Many are calling his posts hurtful and intolerable.

“We are not the Confederacy. We do not believe in racism at the NAACP. Our mission is to fight discrimination and segregation in those posts on his Facebook which was like being down in Dixie somewhere in 1942,” Vines said.

The nearly four-hour long board meeting was mostly public comment in which community members expressed their concerns about systemic racism and fears regarding Sysak's principles.

“I'm not asking for his resignation, I’m demanding it,” Grillo said. “How can you claim to support Black, indigenous, and other people of color but you endorse and support a president who has proven otherwise via social media and other actions?"

Faculty members also called on the board to take action.

“I don't see how Cuesta College can go on with this type of leadership structure. The continued harm to communities on campus and even to our larger community of San Luis Obispo is incalculable,” said Virginia Ruth, a Cuesta College faculty member.

Sysak, a veteran and “proud Conservative”, also made comments about a video depicting political activist Tiana Arrata stomping on an American Flag.

"As an American, [Arrata] has the right to protest peacefully. Well, I believe her actions were hateful to our country and community," he said.

Arrata chimed in during public comment multiple times to address Sysak specifically saying, “You do not represent Cuesta. You do not represent the value of our community. It is utterly disgusting that you are still able to hold your position at this point."

Almost all of Sysak's fellow board members called on him to step down from his position as president.

"Your posts are disrespectful and discriminatory and insight violence in our community," said Jesus Cendejas, the Cuesta College Student Trustee. "Cuesta College is no place for hate."

In response to heated comments, Sysak said he is against discrimination and is in favor of “All Lives Matter.”

“For the record, I am a supporter of 'All Lives Matter,' for Black, Latino, Asian, LGBTQ, people of color, and the unborn. I’m against discrimination, hate crimes, anti-racist groups and I am against defunding the police department and blue lives do matter,” Sysak said.

There was one student who attended the meeting in person to defend Sysak.

Cuesta College Superintendent/President Dr. Jill Stearns said in part, “Let us grasp this moment of conflict, tension, and challenge and embrace it as an opportunity to individually and collectively reaffirm commitment to our mission.”

Sysak added that his mission as a trustee has been to bring new programs to the campus and create a campus in southern San Luis Obispo County and he said he is continuing his push to serve underrepresented communities.

"These written and verbal attacks have been an assault on my character and integrity. I will not be bullied by these attacks," Sysak said.

Sysak denied KSBY’s request for an interview.

The issue was first brought up in early November, but on Thursday, the board voted unanimously to create an internal advisory committee of two members to look into the matter.

The committee's findings will be presented at the December 9 meeting.

Sysak abstained from voting during the meeting due to the conflict of interest.

The Board of Trustees also voted to create a broader committee of community members to address diversity, equity, and inclusion on campus.